Comparing Historical Luthers: Education and Background

This post is part of our series on the Historical Luther. Today’s post, the beginning of our second week, examines Oberman, Hendrix, and Kolb’s respective positions concerning Luther’s education and background.

 

Woodcut of the medieval university

Woodcut of the medieval university

The educational and spiritual formation of Martin Luther has received a great deal of attention in recent years, and the studies of Oberman, Hendrix, and Kolb all give treatment to Luther’s education, family life, and upbringing. Though citing the dearth of information from Luther’s early years in Eisleben, Oberman takes a critical approach to his formative years under Hans and Margaret, viewing them as important in an understanding of Luther, though not in the overbearing manner of earlier scholarship.[1] One social factor that Oberman attributes to young Martin as the result of his parents was his sympathetic understanding of the common folk; though not peasants in the strict sense of the term,[2] Oberman argues that Luther learned much practicality and commonality from his parents.[3] Additionally, Oberman infers from Luther’s prayer to St. Anne that he had received at least some form of training and understanding of traditional medieval Catholic popular piety.[4] In considering Luther’s education at Mansfield, Oberman seeks to refute the once prevalent idea that he had been influenced by the Brethren of the Common Life of the Devotio Moderna movement.[5] Oberman also writes at some length concerning the role of witchcraft in young Martin’s life, though he ultimately concludes that while the Devil remained a very real figure for the mature Luther, the folk lore of the common German people had a negligible effect on his thought, writing that, “How curious that there should still be the gullible Hanna and her superstitions which are supposed to have had such a decisive influence on Luther.”[6] Continue reading

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